Resort’s artist-in-residence is living the American dream

Nelson García-Miranda’s paintings decorate the dining room at Deseo, the signature restaurant at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona, David Schwartz reports.

Cuban artist Nelson García-Miranda is living the American dream one day at a time in this resort city in the desert Southwest.

Standing before an easel, with brightly colored acrylics in hand, García-Miranda is at home working on his paintings in a public space adjacent to a restaurant at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. His artworks hang on the walls around him.

“It’s like a whole new thing for me,” García-Miranda says in Spanish through a translator. “Painting in front of people is different, but it comes naturally to me. I love what I’m doing right now.”

He communicates with visitors through his art, written descriptions of his work, a few words of English and a deep passion that combine to convey his meaning.

But few visiting the resort’s Deseo restaurant know the full story of the energetic 64-year-old artist who arrived in the U.S. from Cuba a dozen years ago with his family, but without a job or a place to live.

Born and raised in a poor neighborhood in the town of Holguin, Cuba, García-Miranda was tapped as a teenager to be an artist because of his drawing prowess.

He would go on to graduate from the Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte del Comodoro and later attain master’s degrees in painting and engraving. His engraving studio was one of only three in the country, and he became a fixture in the arts scene.

But that was in the late 1960s and ’70s, when Fidel Castro’s Cuba had no tolerance for free thinkers, both politically and artistically.

“I was part of a group of artists and intellectuals back then that protested against the official politics of the government,” says García-Miranda, seated outside the Westin’s Deseo restaurant before he was to start work on a recent afternoon.

“There wasn’t any freedom of expression “

His stature grew over the years, as did his acclaim. He traveled outside of Cuba for workshops and exhibitions. He taught. And he had a gallery atop a hill in Holguin where he was allowed to sell his artwork as long as the government received its share of the proceeds.

That was before his wife won a visa lottery and was granted the right to live in the U.S. After many nervous months waiting to leave, during which he feared the government would interfere with his going, he and his family boarded a plane with high hopes for a new life filled with what they hoped was opportunity.

He arrived in Miami in December 1999, but soon took up residence in Arizona.

To eke out a living, García-Miranda worked two jobs at a time washing dishes at area hotels. When he returned home for the day, he would take out his paper and brushes and work for hours on his art.

“I said, ‘If someone gets a chance to see my art, they may offer me an opportunity to do my art,’” he explains.

His chance came when he was washing dishes at the Westin, and he mentioned to chef Roberto Madrid that he was an artist. One day, he brought examples of his art to work.

“I was pretty impressed with his skills; he is so talented,” said Madrid, a close friend, adding that the resort’s top executives also liked what they saw.

García-Miranda was put on the fast track.

In January 2007, his art was first displayed in Deseo. By spring, he began painting in the restaurant during happy hour. He now paints in live sessions five days a week. His works have sold for $10,000 or more.

His imprint is all over in the paintings that decorate the walls of the entrance and dining room of the downstairs restaurant.

He creates small, take-away pieces for special events, paints during special occasions at the resort and designs plates and other wares. His artwork even adorns a fake cigar band used in one of Deseo’s desserts.

García-Miranda calls his style “Cubanidad,” saying that he draws from Cuban folklore and culture as well as events taken from his memories and everyday life. His pieces lean heavily to the abstract, with splashes and swirls of rich color. He lets his imagination run free across the canvas.

“Cuban heritage and culture are a part of Nelson García-Miranda and always will be,” reads an explanatory board by one of his large, two-piece paintings.

He said his main inspiration is nature.

“I love to look at it from the inside, from my personal point of view,” he says. “I am like an elf, a fairy, a goblin in my imagination that moves free in the middle of a jungle.”

A wide smile crosses García-Miranda’s face when he’s asked if he’s happy that he came to America and found personal and professional success here.

He says there’s one thing that he still wants to achieve: becoming a U.S. citizen. That probably will come next year.

“If I could do it in Spanish, I would do it right now,” he says. (Basic English is a requirement for citizenship.) “I want to spend whatever years I have left as a citizen. I’ve done a lot of things here, and it just feels right.”

David Schwartz is a

freelance writer in Arizona.

When you go

Seeing the art

Nelson García-Miranda’s art is immediately visible at the entrance to the Deseo restaurant at Westin Kierland Resort & Spa. One of his larger pieces hangs on the wall straight ahead. Other works are all around. Price tags are on works.

Descend the stairs, and you will see the artist himself at work.

When to go

García-Miranda paints during happy hour from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. He will relocate to the resort’s Rim Lobby Lounge from July 25 through Aug. 30 when Deseo closes for its summer break.

Getting there

The resort is at 6902 E. Greenway Parkway in Scottsdale, just off of Scottsdale Road. It’s 10 miles away from downtown Scottsdale.

For the original report go to http://www.dallasnews.com/travel/southwest/20110630-resorts-artist-in-residence-is-living-the-american-dream.ece?ssimg=214694#ssStory214695

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